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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen-Free Book Notes
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FORM AND STRUCTURE

The basic form for A Doll's House comes from the French piece bien faite (well-made play), with which Ibsen became familiar while producing plays in Oslo and Bergen, Norway. At the time, France was the leader in world drama; however, "serious" dramatists in France looked down on the piece bien faite as low-class entertainment. Typically, this kind of play contained the same stock characters-including the domineering father, the innocent woman in distress, the jealous husband, the loyal friend, the cruel villain-who underwent predictable crises involving lost letters, guilty secrets, and mistaken identity. Intrigue and tension-building delays were heaped on top of each other until the final embrace or pistol shot. There was always a moral to the story.


Ibsen adopted the techniques but changed the characters. Instead of being cardboard types, they are complicated people whose problems the audience can identify with. You (as the reader or audience member) can learn something about yourself and your world through the intrigue and tension onstage. Nora's plight makes you consider your own ideas and relationships, for example.

Another structural technique commonly used by Ibsen is to place all of the important "events" before the play opens. Instead of witnessing the events as they occur, you find them revealed and explained in different ways as the play progresses. The key past event in this play is Nora's secret loan obtained by forging her father's signature. Other important past events are Krogstad's crime, Mrs. Linde's marriage, and Dr. Rank's inherited fatal illness.

The action of the play is very compressed. It takes place in one location (the living room) over a period of three days. The five major characters are closely related, and their lives and roles mirror or contrast with each other's. One character cannot act without affecting each of the others. Even the small part of the nursemaid is tied in to the major theme of Nora's development from child to child-wife to woman. She not only connects Nora to the past but foreshadows the future when Nora will leave her own children to be cared for by another.

This unity of time, place, and characters gives the play what some have called "unrelenting cohesion." In addition, every prop and costume is meant to be symbolic, every conversation layered with meanings. For example, one reader points out that Nora addresses her baby as "my sweet baby doll" (a reminder of her own doll role) and plays hide-and-seek (a reminder of hidden truth) with the older children. You might want to list the ways in which the words, action, and setting give off many messages.

Just as the details reveal the meaning, the overall action is constructed to make you feel the tension mounting within the play. Act One proceeds from the calm of everyday life to disturbing interruptions and revelations. In Act Two, thoughts of death and suicide culminate in the climax of Nora's frantic tarantella. In Act Three, you feel the calm as the confrontation between Nora and Torvald approaches. Some think that the play's resolution-Nora's decision to depart-is also its true climax.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen-Chapter Summary
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